For my STEP project I embarked on a 14-day road trip through the American east coast in order to spark inspiration for new novel/story ideas through a variety of experiences and exposure to new areas and communities.
Even with extensive planning beforehand, this project was logistically challenging. It is impossible to anticipate every problem that could arise, and during our trip there were several moments of stress and confusion, such as when our hostel in Philadelphia did not have free parking as was implied on the hostel website.
One of my best friends from home went on this trip with me, and though we have lived together before, this trip was still a test of our friendship. I am happy to say that nothing bad happened, but we had to work together to coordinate who was driving when, when to eat, what to eat, where to eat, and other small but important things.
Something that surprised me was how food can really show the culture of a city or town. Each day we went out for one or two meals, and each area had a new twist and taste on things. McDonald’s in the northeast has lobster bisque, for instance, and a real Philly cheesesteak is very different than what I’ve seen in Ohio.
I have also learned that fourteen days simply isn’t enough time to experience new things! Our arrival and departure to each city had a quick turnaround time, and many places were very hard to leave. Maine, for example, was somewhere we should have allotted more time to experience. That said, fourteen days on the road was a very long time when we were sleeping at a new place each night. Our hostels were all great, but there’s no place like home.
Creatively, this project did not inspire me as I hoped it would. However, I did gain a wealth of new ideas and experiences to draw from when writing. One of the most inspiring places we visited was West Point Military Academy. I originally wanted to go there and become a cadet, so visiting was nostalgic in some ways, though I had never been there before. Trophy Point was arguably one of the most beautiful spots on our trip, and seeing the new cadets reminded me how my life has taken a different course.
Since my trip I have written over 10,000 words in various fiction pieces, but none of them have yet been finished. I attribute this partly to my busy schedule, but also because of the seldom-successful “forced inspiration.” I believe that in the near future, I will be cranking out another novel, but I will need the right combination of free time and determination to do it.
This experience helped me to discover more about America, and gave me a wider appreciation for the natural beauty this country possesses. I met a wide variety of people from all kinds of different countries and cultures with no bad experiences to speak of; from talking about travel with a Canadian literature professor vacationing in Cape Cod to teaching a Mexican college student new card games in Philadelphia. Traveling with someone my age and not with my parents and family gave traveling a wonderful new twist.
Logistically, my STEP experience has shown me the importance of travel. My family doesn’t travel outside of Ohio very often, but this trip allowed me to experience so many unique cities and landscapes. I want to travel the country more often, and revisit the places that influenced me the most: Maine, Martha’s Vineyard, Philadelphia, and West Point. I learned from this experience that traveling is relatively cheap if you do it right, and being young allows me to be able to enjoy staying in cheap housing like hostels that would be difficult for families, for example.
Creatively, my goal is still to write another novel before I finish college. This trip gave me a wealth of new material to draw from, all of which was recorded in my idea journal along the way. I also got a lot of time to read while on this trip, and a creative goal for me is to read for pleasure more often. The best writer are the best readers, and I have been slacking in that area for awhile now. Hopefully, I will be able to accomplish my goal during spring semester!